After a week of traveling around Lianyungang visiting old friends, it is time to head north to begin my winter camp. Honestly, I do not know where this camp is. I have been told one city, then another, and even more after that. So, I am taking a crap shoot. I left Xuzhou around 10:00 pm. I was on a sleeper train for 13 hours. I like the sleeper trains at night so I can sleep most of the trip to my destination. The only problem with the older, slow sleeper trains are when they stop. They still bump and jump when they are making stops are slowing down. Think of a train stopping and the noise it makes. Now, try imagining being on that train sleeping. I had a good rest. But, I am not sure I actually fell into a deep sleep.
My destination is Xi’an. It is the home of the stone warrior statues. And, Xi’an has over 3000 years of history. Sadly, I am not in Xi’an for a long time. Instead, I meet two girls the camp has sent to get me from the train to the bus. I think they were as lost as I was. And, the bus station was only a few blocks away on the same street as the train station. The bus I need, had just left the station. So, I am forced to wait for 4 hours for the next bus. I grab some lunch and then just wait. I still do not know where I am going. I asked the girls. They told me the name of the town. But, I did not recognize it. I asked how long is the bus trip. First, they say 1-2 hours. Then it was 3-4 hours. Then their answer was, I do not know. TIC…TIC…TIC…I keep repeating this in my head. This is China. Welcome to the unknown and the unorganized. I send the girls on their way. They are useless to me, and four hours with them would drive me nuts. Eventually, I get on my bus. It will be a four hour trip….ugghhhh. Fortunately for me, I am sleepy from the uneasy train trip and fall asleep easily.
The bus pulls into the town. Well, actually, it pulls to the curb of the street. No bus station in this small town. It is night time. And, it is cold. I am standing on the street corner, with my bags, waiting for the camp people to come get me. It takes them 15 minutes to reach me. It feels like hours though. I know I am 4 hours from Xi’an. But, I have no idea what direction it is. I am in a town that looks very, very small. It turns out that in the daytime, it also looks small. Ha Ha. When the camp people come to get me, they apologize for the delay of coming to get me. The girl tells me that they were delayed due to traffic. TRAFFIC???? I think. What, did someone’s horse die in the middle of the street and block traffic in this tiny town?
They take me to the hotel. The drive to the hotel gives me the impression that I have been put into the town of Deliverance. The only thing missing were the dueling banjoes. Oh, wait, there they are playing in my head. Ha ha. The hotel is beyond old. I am shown my room. Hmmm…imagine a “stop and pop” whore house hotel. The rug is soiled brown. I know it is supposed to be blue from the cleaner patch under the desk. The bathroom reminds me of a service station bathroom from when I was a kid. You know the kind. The ones where your mother tells you not to touch anything and to squat over the toilet without sitting on it. Yep…it was that bad. And, there was no internet. What did I get myself into? And, how do I get myself out of it? First impressions are completely down the toilet by now with me. I am a trooper though.
They tell me that they will work on trying to get me internet. It might take a couple of days. I told them that if I do not have internet, then we need to find a place that does. I do not watch TV much because it is all in Chinese. From the looks of the town, there is very little to see or do. And, I was not going to go a month without being able to speak with my parents and friends. They kept telling me that they were going to take me to dinner. I repeated many times that I was not hungry. But, I would come along with them. We walk to a restaurant behind the hotel. They asked me what I wanted to eat. I told them that I was not hungry. I had repeated this several times to them. They said they were not hungry either. So, we left the restaurant. Ugghhh. Chinese people and their hospitality. I love it and hate it at the same time. For example, I could be standing there smoking a cigarette. It is customary for a man to give you a cigarette. Regardless that you are standing there with one in your hand lit, they insist you take another one. It is pointless to refuse. They just keep pushing it upon you. Or, another example, you have a Chinese person who begins to speak to you in Chinese. You explain that you do not speak Chinese. So, what is the natural thing to do? In the USA we would apologize and move on. In China, nothing seems natural to me. They just keep talking to you in Chinese. And, if you remind them that you do not understand what they are saying….they just keep talking to you, as if the more they speak to you, you will magically begin to understand what they are saying.
After the non-dinner, they take me for a walk to go shopping. I buy some cleaning supplies to clean that bathroom. If I take a shower, I want to feel cleaner than when I first started. Not dirtier. The boss of the camp keeps apologizing and insists that the hotel is a three star hotel and is the nicest one in the town. I joke that it is a one star hotel by American standards. But, not really a joke. He says that he will talk to the hotel about cleaning the bathroom. I told him that it is no use to do that If that is how they clean bathrooms, then they do not know how to clean. I would clean it myself. And, that is what I did. When I returned to my room, I spent an hour scrubbing everything. I am left to myself for the rest of the night. I am to meet them in the morning in the lobby at 8:30.
We get to the class. It is an old, dirty building that was once an internet café. The wallpaper is peeling and it is dark. There is only an old chalkboard that is nearly useless. The slate is so smooth that the chalk hardly holds to the board any more. At least it is warm in the room with the heater on. My first day is only one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon. It is what they call audition day. The parents and students get to see how the classes will be. There are about 10 total students for the day. There should be about 30 total. I give a good class, I think. And, so does the boss. But, the next day, there are only 5 students. I am to teach 3 hours in the morning and 3 hours in the afternoon. The same students are in both classes. This camp keeps going from bad to worse.
The night before I went to dinner at a restaurant. A college student sat with me and talked with me. His English was very good. I knew he did not learn to speak this way in a small town, so I was curious as how he speaks so well. It turns out that he taught himself. He spends 2 hours a day reading to himself aloud and watching English movies. He also tries to learn new words. He is self taught. He is the type of student I want all of my students to be. I tell my students all the time that I can not teach them English. They have to teach themselves. I can only give them tools and assistance. This kids has a goal to go abroad to study and travel. That is his motivation for studying English. I invited him to speak to my students. We had a good conversation as he explained how he studies, why he studies, and other things. I hope the class learned something from him.
So….all this brings me to today. I am down to 4 students. We only had a morning class. We (the staff and I) went to the local high schools. It is their last day of classes before holiday begins. So, we handed out flyers to the parents waiting for the students to exit the school. I played the white monkey marketing the camp. I was very friendly and kind. These people may have never seen a foreigner before, so, I am the center of attention. Some are taking picture of me and with me. Others come to greet me. Others look upon me with suspicion. But, it was a good afternoon. I am not sure how many students we will get from the effort. I doubt we will see many. But, the boss thinks we will see many. I will find out tomorrow.
I found a pool hall and I have been there twice. There is a Dicos here too. It is the only western type restaurant. it is like KFC. And, I have found my favorite type of Chinese restaurant. They are called (Long-Joe) Noodle shops. I am not sure of the spelling. But, you pronounce it like I have typed it. They are operated by Chinese Muslims. And, they hand make the noodles from scratch. Kind of like a hand tossed pizza dough man does. But, they whip the noodles around to make them long. It is one continuous noodle in a bowl with veggies and meats. It is really good. And, when I have time and it is a little warmer, I will explore some of the town. The town is so small that they do not have a bus system here. You can walk from one end of town to the other in about 30 minutes. So, it will be a quick exploration. And, there really is nothing much to see around here of interest. I think it will be a very long month here.
That is all the news I have for now. Stay tuned for more updates on this not so very interesting chapter in my Chinese life.